Share This:

This week, Jim Tolhurst shares the story of an Irish Rebel -  Kevin Izod O'Doherty who spent a large part of his life in Queensland, Australia. It's romantic yet tragic and will capture the imagination of anyone with Irish roots!

The Story of Kevin Izod O Doherty

Kevin Izod Doherty was born in Dublin, on 7 September 1823, the son of Dr Kevin Izod Doherty and Mary Ann (Eva) Kelly.

In 1842, he commenced his medical studies in Dublin at the same time that Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon founded the newspaper,  The Nation. Their aim was to create an Irish nationalism to which the whole population, irrespective of creed, could subscribe.

Dublin 1842

The Rotunda and Lying in Hospital, Dublin 1842, welcome collection

Doherty, as well as many other young men, were attracted by the policy of this new newspaper. It was at this time that he added the prefix “O” to his surname.

In 1840, Daniel O’Connell, a member of the House of Commons, had revived the campaign for the repeal of the union of England and Ireland and established the Loyal National Repeal Association. Over the next few years, there were divisions in the organization, as to the best ways to achieve their goal. He lost the support of the Young Irelanders. Also, in 1845, the famine was beginning and would last for five years, with tragic consequences for the country and its people.

Find out how your County was affected by the Famine.

Publisher at the Irish Tribune & Conviction under the Treason Felony Act

Following revolutions in several European countries, the British government passed the Treason Felony Act, which was designed to curb the activities of the leaders of the Young Irelander movement. It was under this law, that John Mitchel was tried in 1848 and convicted and sentenced to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

He had been the publisher of the United Irishman, and following his conviction, this role had been assumed by Kevin O’Doherty and Dalton Williams and carried out enthusiastically. The paper was re-named the Irish Tribune. Inevitably, the authorities reacted to the nationalist ideas being expressed in the paper and O’Doherty was arrested on 9 July 1848. Williams was arrested the following day, and both were taken to Newgate prison.

In O’Doherty’s first trial, the jury was discharged because there was no chance of them reaching an agreement. A similar outcome occurred with the second trial. In his third trial, he was found guilty, by an all-Protestant jury, of an attempt to levy war against Her Majesty, the Queen, and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for ten years. He left Cork on the Mount Stewart Elphinstone on 28 June 1849, with another Young Irelander, John Martin. The ship headed to Sydney and it was not until 22 October 1849 that the pair finally arrived in Hobart.

Kevin Izod O Doherty
Kevin Izod O’Doherty
Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland

Eva of the Nation 

A few months before O’Doherty’s arrest, Eva Kelly had arrived in Dublin. She was a talented poet, with strong nationalist tendencies and had contributed articles to The Nation, under the pen name “Eva of the Nation”. She had been born into a wealthy family on 15 February 1830 at Headford, Co. Galway. They became friendly and, while he was in Richmond prison, the romance blossomed, after she had told him, on the day of his conviction, that she would wait for him. Before he departed, they became secretly engaged.

Read more: Irish Poets

O’Doherty and Martin were joined in Van Diemen’s Land by the other Irish rebels, Smith O’Brien, Meagher, McManus, O’Donoghue and John Mitchel. Earl Grey, the secretary of state for Colonies had issued instructions to the Lieutenant-Governor that the rebels should be given:

Tickets of leave, placing them as far as you can in separate Districts at a distance from the Capital.

O’Doherty was sent to Oatlands, eighty-five kilometres north of Hobart, but he had difficulty finding work and he had little money. In December 1850 he succeeded in being transferred to Hobart where he managed the Tasmanian Dispensary. In 1851 he obtained the position of house surgeon in St Mary’s Hospital in Hobart and could put his medical studies to good use.

On 26 June 1854, O’Doherty received confirmation that he had been granted a conditional pardon, provided that he not return to Great Britain or Ireland. After a short time on the goldfields of Victoria, he travelled incognito, on the James Baines, which left Melbourne for Liverpool on 12 March 1855. From there, he took a ferry to Dublin and made his way to Galway to be re-united with Eva.

 Eva May O'Doherty
Eva May O’Doherty
Photograph courtesy State Library of Queensland

They planned to live in Paris, until he received a full pardon, so that he could continue his medical studies. He set out for Paris, would arrange for a secret marriage in England and arrange accommodation for them in Paris. Eva was to meet him in London and Cardinal Wiseman married them at Moorfields Church, London on 23 August 1855.

On 19 May 1856 he was granted a full pardon and the couple had quietly returned to Dublin, shortly before that, as Eva was pregnant with their first child, William Joseph Kelly O’Doherty, who was born on 26 May 1856. Edward Hyacinth was born on 3 April 1858 and Vincent Kevin on 23 August 1859.

Have roots in County Dublin, keep up to date here

Kevin passed his final medical examination on 11 June 1857. He set up practice in Dublin, was appointed a surgeon at St Vincent’s Hospital, qualified for the College of Physicians and took a Diploma in Obstetrics. During his hospital visits he met Father James Quinn, who was the president of St Laurence O’Toole’s seminary in Dublin and they became firm friends. In 1859, Quinn was appointed the first Bishop of Brisbane in the new colony of Queensland.

Immigration to Australia

In 1860, the family decided to migrate to Australia, partly because O’Doherty was unhappy with his family, who did not support his earlier rebel activities, and also because attitudes to Irish nationalism had changed considerably since the Young Irelander uprising.

They travelled on the Ocean Chief, which left Liverpool on 5 July 1860, and Kevin acted as the ship’s surgeon. They landed in Melbourne and settled, briefly, in Geelong, where Kevin Izod Louis was born on 8 November 1860. However, Kevin was keen to practice in Sydney, based on the advice of his friend, Archdeacon McEnroe, and he established his practice at 27 Bowen Street. Eva and the children joined him in December 1860.

Bishop Quinn passed through Sydney in May 1861 and returned again in October 1861 and convinced O’Doherty that he should re-locate to the northern colony. The family arrived in Brisbane on 29 February 1862, and settled, initially, at Ipswich, where Kevin established a successful practice. The town was nearly 40 kilometres west of Brisbane and was only accessible by river steamer or road coach.

Two more children were born during their time in Ipswich. John Paul on 30 June 1862 and Jeannette Marie Annunciata on 22 February 1864. Sadly, in a period when infant mortality was high, both children died before their first birthdays.

Political Life in Brisbane

In the middle of 1865, the family moved to Brisbane to a house on one of the city’s streets, from which Kevin would practise. At the time, Brisbane had a population of about13,000. He was probably the most qualified doctor in the colony, at that time, and his practice flourished and he was in demand at the hospitals and he also attended St Vincent’s Orphanage, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. Two more children were added to the family after they moved to Brisbane, Eva Mary on 9 March 1866 and Gertrude Maria Christina on 15 November 1869

He became a prominent catholic layman in the town, was a strong supporter of Bishop Quinn and, for the next few decades was the leading catholic in Queensland, outside of the clerical hierarchy. He was prominent in raising funds for All Hallows School, the first catholic girls’ school in Queensland, run by the Sisters of Mercy, and for the construction of St Stephen’s Cathedral. All this, at a time when there was a great deal of anti-catholic and anti-Irish feeling in the town and some were not prepared to let him forget the fact, that he had been a convict.

However, he had a wide range of other interests. He was a Trustee of the Brisbane Grammar School, a member of the Philosophical Society, which became the Royal Society of Queensland, Chairman of the Queensland Medical Society, a member of the Queensland Turf Club, Vice-President of the Queensland Rugby Union, a member of the Queensland Irish Club and Surgeon-General in the Queensland Irish Volunteers, an important part of Queensland’s civil defence, prior to the establishment of the Australian Defence Force, after Federation in 1901.

He was a gifted public speaker, who took a keen interest in the politics of the colony. He served in the Queensland Legislative Assembly from 1867 to 1873 and in the Legislative Council from 1877 to 1885. He had not been forgotten in Ireland either, and was elected, unopposed, to the House of Commons in the 1885 election, as the member for North Meath. The family returned to Ireland, so that he could take up his seat in the House of Commons.

Disillusioned by the defeat, on 8 June 1886, of Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill, he returned to Brisbane, but found it difficult to re-establish his practice and had to make do with short term and part time Government appointments. It was a sad time for he and his wife. His eyesight was failing rapidly, he had serious financial difficulties and only Gertrude survived them.

He died at home on 15 July 1905 at the age of 81, the last survivor of the glorious men of 1848. 

The Queensland irish Association established a memorial fund, from which a pension was provided for his wife and daughter and, later, a headstone for his grave at Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane. Eva contracted influenza and passed away on 22 May 1910 and is buried in the same plot at Toowong Cemetery.

Kevin Izod O’Doherty was a remarkable Irishman. He went from a catholic medical student, to a newspaper publisher, a rebel, a convict, a pioneering doctor in Queensland, a politician in both Queensland and the United Kingdom, and a man of wide interests. He made a huge contribution to the early days of the colony of Queensland.

O'Doherty Family Grave

O’Doherty Family Grave, O’Doherty Avenue, Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane

Exiles Undaunted – The Irish Rebels, Kevin and Eva O’Doherty, Ross and Heather Patrick, University of Queensland Press, 1989

Manuscript Kevin Izod Louis O’Doherty, A First-Day Terracian and His Family, Brian Grenier, CFC

Read More

Would like to share your research with the wider Ireland Reaching Out membership? Get in touch with us at


We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

Donate Now